I haven’t read the memoir. But I have the feeling that the book “The Glass Castle” has more depth than the movie version, which still is worth seeing.
The best-seller is the basis for the movie based on the life of journalist and writer Jeannette Walls, played here as an adult by the marvelous Brie Larson (“Room”). To say that Jeannette’s parents (Naomi Watts and Woody Harrelson) live off-the-grid with their children is an understatement. The family moves constantly, always two steps ahead of the law that seems to be after volatile dad Rex and one step away from starvation.
The movie moves back and forth in time to contrast Jeannette’s childhood with her young adulthood as a successful columnist.
In one early scene (which, incidentally, made me gasp aloud), little Jeannette is grievously burned after she tries to fix something to eat. Her mother is too busy painting to tend to her child’s needs.
Rex, in the meantime, is knowledgeable and capable. That is, when he wants to actually fix something in one of their shacks. He’d rather drink and hustle pool than hold down a job.
His “lovable misfit” character gradually devolves into an abusive, selfish sort who always has enough money for alcohol and cigarettes but who leaves his children to go hungry, sometimes for days at a time.
As an adult, Jeannette learns to lie to others about her parents’ real situation. As a child, she and her siblings constantly plot to run away from the chaos in which their parents thrust the family.
I wanted to know a lot more about Rose Mary, Jeannette’s mother, and why she stayed with Rex in what seem to be intolerable conditions. A few other situations are never fully explained satisfactorily.
It will make parents shudder with its depictions of child abuse and the ghastly living conditions of extreme poverty that surround the children because of their parents’ mental conditions. One horrific sequence involves child molestation, and other scenes involve violence.
Larson, who is a terrific performer, does a wonderful job as Jeannette, giving her character just enough steel and sorrow as an adult who still cannot escape her childhood. Harrelson, as always, puts his natural intensity to good use as a complex, intelligent man who can’t seem to understand how his brutish tendencies hurt his family.
This is a great deal like the fictional “Captain Fantastic,” about a family living a nomadic existence, and long before that, “The Mosquito Coast.” This is all the more poignant because it really happened. And it will fascinate both fans of the book and those who have yet to read it.